Governors, lawmakers and state unemployment agencies on Monday wrestled with confusion created by President Donald Trump’s executive action extending unemployment benefits, and it appeared some states could settle for $300 a week in benefits instead of the $400 that the president touted.
State leaders from both political parties remained unsure how much they’d have to contribute to receive federal funding. With states already facing budget shortfalls and unemployment systems ill-equipped to handle a new stream of federal cash, they also may be hesitant to accept benefits estimated by budget experts to last just weeks.
The multiple questions added urgency to calls for the Trump administration to reach a deal on coronavirus relief with congressional leaders, instead of relying on Trump’s Saturday night memo.
The memo said the federal government would provide $300 per week in additional aid to unemployed workers if their states also contributed $100. But in guidance to states late Sunday obtained by States Newsroom, the U.S. Department of Labor said the federal government would provide the additional $300 per week to states with or without the state match, adding another layer of complexity.
“One big question is: Are states going to participate in it?” said David Super, a professor of administrative and constitutional law at Georgetown University’s law school. “I think most states won’t. I think many states will have difficulty doing it without approval from their legislatures, many of which have adjourned.”
A spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Monday the state would likely take the option not to contribute, which would mean unemployed workers in Ohio would receive $300 a week rather than $400, the Ohio Capital Journal reported. That would be half of the $600 a week extended in a March relief bill that expired July 31.
In Virginia, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was noncommital. “We are continuing to review newly-released details from the US Department of Labor to determine how — and if — we can proceed,” Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, told the Virginia Mercury.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump’s attempt on unemployment benefits is a “disaster” and won’t work. “It is so put together with spit and glue, that in all likelihood many states won’t implement it at all, some have said so, and many more even if they want to implement it will take months, several months, while people will not get their unemployment benefits,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Under the cost-share formula laid out in the memo, the federal government would spend about $44 billion and states would be required to contribute almost $15 billion. That price tag may shock states that have seen revenues decline and costs skyrocket as they respond to a pandemic that has also put millions out of work.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom estimated the tab for California could be $770 million.
In addition to the ongoing weekly cost to states, participating in the program would require them to overhaul unemployment computer systems at a time when many states are facing dire financial situations.
National Governors Association Chair Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and Vice Chair Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said in a joint statement that governors “appreciate the White House’s proposals to provide additional solutions to address economic challenges; however, we are concerned about the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.”
The governors said the president should return to negotiations with Congress to provide more sustainable relief to states. Read more